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Ocean’s 8 can give Bollywood a lesson on how to depict female friendship and feminism

Fun need not be frivolous, and women have a lot more to do than just talk about dildos and dating. In a post-Weinstein era, this heist movie becomes much more than just a fun-filled caper

Devlina Ganguly @DevlinaGanguly 25 June 2018, 12:17 PM
Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Co are here to give you some kickass female friendship goals

Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Co are here to give you some kickass female friendship goals YouTube/Warner Bros Pictures

How do women bond — 21st-century women who have careers, money, a thriving social life and the freedom to explore the world without being hindered by the social norms that acted as fetters for their previous generation? By crying about men over drinks, discussing the problems created by the men in their lives or sharing their dirty secrets involving… yes, you guessed it right… men.

Yup, we are talking of Veere Di Wedding (VDW). Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhasker and Shikha Talsania drown their sorrows in alcohol (which is awesome, we do it, too, but the problem is that ALL of their problems are men-related. No career issues, no money problems, or anything else apart from dating, divorce and marriage), and don’t spend a minute of their screentime without talking about men (such sorry failures at the Bechdel test). And we are left wondering, why does a film about four women talk only about the males in their lives — be it fathers, husbands or potential husbands.

While we shake our heads sadly at such a shoddy depiction of female bonding, dreams and aspirations, there comes Ocean’s 8 to show us that women don’t need men to have fun, they manage pretty well on their own, thank you. Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Co kick some serious ass in this ‘sequel’ to Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven series, giving us girls a breather from a spate of Bollywood films that want to talk about women but end up showing them through the prism of a man’s world — their dreams, struggles, and even their fun, all pertaining to men. Ocean’s 8, on the other hand, makes it clear from the very beginning that it is a woman’s world and in a post-Weinstein era, this heist movie becomes much more than just a fun-filled caper.

"It was a healing experience to see a group of women in the trailer — and feel like you could just celebrate them being together," co-writer and co-producer Olivia Milch was quoted as saying in an interview with Pacific Standard.

In the early stages of planning the heist, Debbie Ocean (Bullock) states her logic for an all-female crew, “A him gets noticed. A her gets ignored. And for once, we’d like to be ignored.” This apparently simple plot exposition device is pretty heavy in meaning. I don’t remember Danny Ocean (George Clooney) trying to convince Rusty (Brad Pitt) of his decision to gather an all-male crew to rob three casinos. And why would he? What was absolutely normal for one becomes a focal plot point for the other.

But Ocean’s 8 delivers much more than just being “the female Ocean’s Eleven”— giving us a bold, funny and joyous crime adventure that can give its predecessors a run for their money (Ocean's Eleven -2001, Ocean's Twelve -2004, Ocean's Thirteen-2007).

Both VDW and Ocean’s 8 are similar in the fact that they want their women to have fun. But while in the former, the women’s joys, as well as their woes, are all coloured by the males in their lives, the latter gives its women their own world, where they are passionate about something other than the men in their lives — their dreams, their freedom, and their talent.

The eight female leads — Bullock, Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Awkwafina, Mindy Kaling (yes, that adds up to seven, but we won’t spoil the eighth surprise for you) — pull off a daring heist at the star-studded annual Met Gala. And to achieve their dream, the all-female crew pool in their skills — including computer-hacking, jewellery-making, pickpocketing to name a few — to steal Cartier's ‘Toussaint,’ a rare diamond necklace valued at $150 million.

A special mention of the fact that the ‘queen’ of the Met IRL, Rihanna, spends the entire night of the heist in a halal cart and you have to applaud her willingness to go against type. We can’t help but wish that Kareena Kapoor Khan could have done something more than being a glam doll and also thoroughly under-utilised in Veere Di Wedding.

Sonam plays a lawyer in Veere, but we don’t see her in action until the very end, and that too for a few seconds and without any impact whatsoever. No one hears Kareena talking of her job in Australia, Shikha is just a girl who ran away with a firang and outcast by her family, while Swara swipes her father’s credit card without a care in the world, spending lakhs of his money on herself and her friends.

The ladies in Veere Di Wedding have only one thing to discuss — MEN

The ladies in Veere Di Wedding have only one thing to discuss — MEN Image: YouTube/Balaji Motion Pictures

On the other hand, in Ocean’s 8, we are made aware of the hard work that goes in to pull off a heist, the women look good, gorgeous in fact (Blanchett’s Lou gives everyone — men and women — wardrobe goals of a lifetime, and the leads look jaw-dropping in their shimmery gowns on the night of the Met) — but the focus is never taken away from their skills, the sheer talent that helps them pull off such a mad plan.

The dreadlocked Rihanna is an ace hacker who breaches the Metropolitan Museum of Arts' high-tech security system, Paulson’s Tammy is an otherwise ordinary, cardigan-wearing everyday mom whose other life involves a scamming business running out of her garage and she works with Vogue’s event-management team to supply table logistics for her group’s advantage. Carter plays fashion designer Rose Weil, who, though heavily in debt to the Internal Revenue Service, uses her charm and, of course, designing talent to convince the event’s host Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to wear a custom-designed dress — as well as the six-pound diamond necklace.

"It's important for men and women to see powerful, badass, excellent women doing their jobs well. And it's incredibly satisfying to see eight women on screen who are central to, rather than appendages of, the story,” Milch said in the interview. And we couldn’t agree more.

Back home, we hope filmmakers, as well as female actors, are taking notes on how to make an all-female film that doesn’t take away the gorgeousness of who they are but doesn’t reduce them to just pretty faces, talks about their lives, aspirations and talents without having them overtly obsess over men, and shows them having fun without becoming frivolous. And for doing all of this and more, here’s a shoutout to the fabulous women of Ocean’s 8 and director Gary Ross. (Psst, male directors don’t necessarily have to misunderstand and misportray feminism and female friendships. Shashanka Ghosh, are you listening?)

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